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The expression ‘been there, done that’ is undoubtedly present in whatever language you choose, though not necessarily as abrupt and grammatically incomplete as the English version, invariably chosen by the self-professed hedonists.

The ‘there’ is not strictly geographical but identifies that the speaker was once, or for a long time, in that space; seeing it all, and even doing it all; whatever ‘it’ was. One very popular time-zone for the expression is the life experience we know as adolescence. Every adult in the world can claim entitlement to having ‘been there …’ But, ‘… done that’? Done what? Not necessarily much, but I guarantee that every adult with a decent memory will recall the many events of the few years of adolescence.


Adolescence is often portrayed as a period of struggle and friction, filled to bursting with exhilarating ups and depressing downs. Young people’s behaviour tends to be stereotyped as self-absorbed and impulsive. But how accurate is that picture? Well, there is no one rule and no one outcome; we’re all different. One thing is certain - you can’t put an old head on young shoulders. It’s tempting to look back from middle age or later and wish that you’d gained the wisdom without the mistakes of your adolescence, the missed opportunities, the wasted hours and the lack of a productive attitude to life; precisely what too often defines the period of adolescence. But wisdom is bigger than all that and doesn’t come quickly and easily. Life is a journey. You gain wisdom through undertaking that journey.

Adolescence is transition time; for both adolescents and their parents. It’s a highly influential, indeed pivotal, period of life, when we, human beings, change both physically and emotionally; but not necessarily easily and productively. Focusing today on the emotional side, I’ll adapt a humorous mantra to say; the three most common absences in adolescence are direction, direction and direction.


If you remember it being, for you, a calm and thoroughly productive, trouble-free, confusion-free series of teenage years, knowing precisely your scale of values and the person you were going to be as an adult, then you either had a remarkable adolescence or are gazing back through rose-coloured spectacles. A clear sense of direction is usually the missing component in a typical adolescence. You can write volumes on adolescence from the perspective of the adolescent, the owner, of course, of the daily life in question. But also of critical significance is the role that parents can play. If you have an adolescent who demonstrates a hunger for knowledge and wisdom, respects and shows concern for other people and the environment, who has a clear idea of the future personal journey, gets down to homework without being nagged and tidies the bedroom without being reminded, then you have a rather unusual teenager. Because that combination is generally conspicuous by its absence.

What are the lessons of adolescence for parents? They should provide the adolescent with love and a happy life within a well-defined framework of values and principles. A safe and supportive background provided by parents is vital. A parent’s ability to identify a growing sense of identity and responsibility in the teenager is of crucial importance, acknowledging this transitional phase – no longer a child and not yet an adult. Establishing the rules, then showing the trust, tends to be far more productive than the other way round.


And having both parents as established residents in the family home is of considerable importance. Where one or more are missing owing to circumstances beyond control, that is very challenging for the adolescent, but one where the liSwati extended family support kicks in. But where the absence of a father is the result of careless sexual behaviour – a very common occurrence in many countries, including Eswatini – the child is being needlessly placed in a serious shortage of parental input, invariably made worse by a lack of financial support.
You can’t do that in First World countries. You get a DNA-confirmed parentage and a hefty child maintenance bill for the next 18 years. Makes you behave. And in that child’s adolescence, with the father figure absent, an unreasonable and unfair load of responsibility is placed on the mother. Horses for courses; the father has a vital part to play in the adolescent’s journey. More ready access to free or low-price DNA testing is needed. Then apply the law.

In the Kingdom of Eswatini, there is a predominant desire for peace, the hallmark of this nation for so many years. There may not be universal agreement on the political side of things but every reasonable person will want a peaceful route to whatever will be the outcome of the dissent of recent times. To achieve that, a huge amount depends on the level of emotional intelligence and maturity in adults, especially young adults. And that, in turn, relies heavily on having had a well-supported journey through adolescence.

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